(Happy birthday to my younger sister Melissa! Congratulations on making it to adulthood in one piece after I spent years trying out WWF moves on you. -Ed.)
I’m sure this doesn’t make me unique among men my age, but as a child I played an insane amount of the original NES. Despite all of the hours logged, all of the games received for Christmases and birthdays, games purchased and rented, there aren’t very many titles that stick out for me as my favorites. For the most part if something was popular I played it, but didn’t think much into ranking games.
All of this is to say that the games I did consider to be favorites stand out in my brain like flashing signs on the Vegas strip. The biggest, gaudiest, loosest slots and prettiest waitstaff sign in town of Nintendo games for me was Baseball Stars.
Baseball Stars was released in 1989 by SNK, a developer name that didn’t mean too much to me until the Neo-Geo was released, a system with incredible looking arcade quality games that was so insanely expensive I never even met somebody who owned it. Pursuant to the social contract you implicitly sign when you’re born a male in a Rust Belt state, I was a huge sports fan who lived and breathed baseball, so Baseball Stars piqued my interest immediately. Once I started playing the game, I realized just how absolutely my jam it was. Baseball Stars had by far the most extensive system for tracking stats of any Nintendo sports game at the time, and if there’s one thing I loved even more than watching or playing baseball, it was involving myself in statistical minutiae related to baseball. My local library had an oversized encyclopedia of every player in the Baseball Hall of Fame up to the time of publication, and I learned the name and playing career of every one. I was also a card collector who was more interested in what was included on the back of the card than the front. In short, I was a dork.
Baseball Stars was a game for the dorks. It was the first Nintendo sports game to include a battery back up, which enabled team and player creation and the staging of entire seasons, during which all player stats were recorded. It also enabled you to purchase better attributes to build up your players using money you earned by winning games, and if somebody was performing poorly you could cut them. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Baseball Stars is actually a role playing game that happens to feature baseball.
If a player wasn’t inclined to build his or her own team from scratch, Baseball Stars came with eight pre-fab teams. The game technically didn’t feature any actual Major League players, except that the most stacked pre-fab team in the game, the American Dreams, happened to include players whose first names and abilities coincided with those of Major League Hall of Famers. As you may have guessed based on the earlier reference to the Cooperstown book, this appealed to me greatly. In addition to the Hall of Famers, one team was made up of all females (Lovely Ladies), another was historical figures (World Powers), a ninja inspired team (Ninja Blacksox), and one made up of movie monsters (Ghastley Monsters). There were three additional teams that I assume had themes, but it’s not like anybody used them, so I guess we’ll never know.
Thanks in large part to the forward thinking game options, Baseball Stars holds up remarkably well today. I’ve purchased the Nintendo cartridge three times over the years because I like the game so much and I currently have it on my NES Classic (crack your Classic if you haven’t already, it’s worth the hour). I even played my brother-in-law on a recent trip to Ohio. I won, of course.
Baseball Stars remains one of my favorite NES games of all time, and is still fun to pick up and play today. Maybe if some of the other NES titles had gone to the trouble of being an ideal match with my demographic and outside interests in 1989 they’d be on my list of favorites as well. You should have tried harder, Ninja Gaiden II.
What were your favorite Nintendo games? It’s okay if they weren’t Baseball Stars (sort of). Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.